I’m a big fan of the One Piece anime, but there sadly aren’t a lot of retro One Piece games that are accessible to English speakers. One Piece GBA is by no means an amazing game but there is still a lot here for fans of the anime to like. The game is a platformer/beat ’em up and retells the story from the beginning of the series through Luffy’s fight against Smoker.
You play as Luffy, and it’s a lot of fun to try out his signature moves in 16-bit glory. There’s a pretty wide moveset, including the Gum-Gum Pistol, Gatling Gun, Bell and Rocket. As you progress through the game you can also unlock the Gum-Gum Balloon and Spear. However, the game never explains how to use each move, so you’re going to want to consult a strategy guide. You have a special meter that can be charged by damaging enemies, and when filled be used to activate the Gum-Gum Bazooka or Axe. As the story progresses, you recruit the other members of the Straw Hat crew and can switch to having them jump in with their own special attacks instead. The other Straw Hats are scattered around each level and you need to find them each time to use their moves.
The combat is your standard repetitive beat ’em up fare, with you fighting the same enemies over and over again in each stage. The game totals how many of each enemy type you defeated in the stage and it’s not uncommon to defeat the same enemy more than 50 times in a single stage. Sometimes one of the major henchmen from the anime show up and you get a bonus for defeating them, but they just attack a few times and then jump off screen, so it’s very difficult to take them down before they leave and they end up just being annoying most of the time.
The platforming is very basic early on but gets better as the game progresses. One incredibly annoying thing is how many bottomless pits there are in this game. There are a lot of leaps of faith too, so I lost a ton of lives jumping into pits thinking there’d be a platform below. Enemy attacks can also knock you into pits, which everyone always loves. In addition to finding the other Straw Hats, there are also a number of coins scattered throughout each level. There isn’t any reward for collecting them, but they do add some replay value for completionists.
There are six acts in the game, matching the six story arcs of the East Blue Saga and each act is divided into three stages. The second stage of each act ends with a miniboss fight with the third act serving as the main boss fight. The bosses are a mixed bag. Some of them are pretty fun (particularly Jango and Don Krieg), but every single one of them is a damage sponge and the fights drag on for way too long.
Most of bosses are pretty tough too. Luffy gets can’t move when he attacks or cancel his attacks, so if you miss the boss, you’re a sitting duck while you wait for the attack animation to finish. If that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of the bosses become invincible during their attacks, so if you start attacking at the wrong time, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them.
The Buggy fight in this game is notoriously difficult. If you land a hit anywhere but his head, he breaks up and becomes invincible so the only move that works on him is the jump kick which causes hardly any damage. All of his attacks take huge chunks of your life and have a long range to boot. Despite only being the second boss in the game, he is by far the hardest. I ended up just cheating to get past him.
If there’s one reason to play One Piece GBA, it’s the impressive sprite work. Luffy’s attacks are all nicely animated and the game manages to capture the feel of the anime very well. There are a lot of nice little touches like how Luffy holds onto his hat to keep it from flying off when he runs or how his arm stretches when you jump down to grab a rope. Most of the major supporting characters get cameos, and it’s great to see 16-bit versions of Luffy and his pals.
The game is based on the 4Kids dub of the anime and was never released outside of North America, but apart from a couple name changes and Sanji’s cigarettes being replaced by lollipops, it’s pretty faithful to the original story. (Interestingly, Smoker’s cigars managed to slip past the censors.)
The music is pretty catchy in some stages, but don’t expect to hear any of the iconic music from the original anime. On the plus side, there’s no “Pirate Rap” either.
Whether or not One Piece GBA is worth playing all comes down to how big a fan you are of the anime. The gameplay certainly isn’t going to blow you away, but for a licensed game, it’s not half bad, and One Piece fans should definitely give it a shot.
Final Rating: 2.5/5